General Disclaimer: I will totally admit that Xena and Gabrielle are completely owned by Renaissance and co. Fortunately for me I'm not writing about Xe and Gab this time and Cathy and Lara are all mine…So this disclaimer was really quite useless… 

Violence: Oh yes, I love action, especially when it gets messy. But I have to say I've been quite good so far and no vicious bloodshed is planned in the near future… But I'll manage to put it in there somewhere, don't worry. 

Subtext: Yes, subtext is there, and that is exactly what it is SUBtext… My new creations are just getting used to their new watery world and have urged me to keep things simple for now, and as a submissive bard I humbly follow their lead. 

Lack of Knowledge: Yeah, you probably didn't expect me to ever disclaimer on that one did ya? <G> But being 20.000 km away from my lovely library I am quite limited in my resources and unfortunately my English teacher never thought me 19th century boat terms, so I'm a bit stuck on all the names of things and stuff. I've tried to work my way around it...

Also, I'd like to mention that if you're a big lover of English Colonial history or if you can't stand the fact that Australian history is slightly (well, OK, highly) twisted, you might not want to read this story. I've tried to write an accurate description of Oz back then with the limited knowledge I have, but this is fiction after all. I'm infamous for messing around with historical figures and what not. It's a sign of affection though, in my case, I only mess up things when I really enjoyed the original ;-). 

Anyhow, enough of this, let's get started…. 

Eye of the Needle

By Annemaart 


The ship softly rocked on the gentle waves of the great Southern Ocean. Catherine let her eyes roam over the endless blue stretch of water that surrounded her. She quietly closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath of air to keep her stomach from rebelling. Not that there was much for her belly to rebel with, considering she hadn't eaten in the last three days. Another salty breath entered her lungs slowly, as she tried to block out any thought of the ocean. 

"That's enough air for you there." A loud voice spoke out to her, pulling her out of her quietness. "Back down with ya." 
Catherine looked at the man pleadingly. "Please sir, just a few more moments..." 
"Disobeying me, are ya?" He moved closer quickly, took hold of the chain that was attached to her wrist and savagely pulled on it, making her stumble forward. "Down I said!" he roared at her. 
Cathy cast her eyes down, then obeyed, making her way back down the stairs to the cargo level, where three hundred others awaited their turn to see five minutes of sunlight. 

Catherine let herself lean against the side of the ship, then slowly slid down to sit on the wooden floor. One of the sailors came by and locked her chain and those of the others that had gone out with her to a metal rail attached to the wooden wall of the boat. Cathy closed her eyes again, listening to the sound of the waves hitting against the side of the ship. "How much longer, John?" 

A man in his mid thirties moved slightly closer, as much as his chain would allow. "Not much longer now, lass" He told her in a thick Irish accent. 
"That's what you said yesterday, and the day before that, and the week before that and the months before that." Cathy's bright green eyes shot up at him. A deep sigh as she glanced back down. "I can't take this much longer, John." 
"Sure ya can, lass." The man said, softly touching her shoulder. "You've held on so long, ya can't give in now. Australia's not much further..." 
"And what if we reach Australia?" Green eyes looked up into soft brown ones with great intensity. "If we reach Port Jackson, we'll be slaves John. We'll be building their houses and their churches and we'll have nothing! Damn them, the bloody bastards." 
"Hush now." John hissed, trying to calm her. "They might hear you."
"So?" An unpleasant laugh bubbled up. "What'll they do, kill me?" And in a quieter voice. "Good, I should be dead... me instead of Michael..." 
John shut his eyes for a moment. "Lass, he didn't die because of you." 
"I could've done something..." 
"He was ill. No one could've saved him..." John said in a soothing voice. 
Cathy just shook her blond head softly, mumbling some words no one could make out. 

Michael had become a close friend of Cathy's. Through the month's they'd talked and laughed and managed to stay alive. He'd helped her with her seasickness, making her eat the little food they got and singing songs from her childhood. Songs that had always seemed to calm her. 
But then he had become ill, as many had during the long voyage to the Southern Continent. She had treated him the best she could, but all had failed and just a few days ago he had passed away . The sailors had come, roughly dragging his body upstairs. "No!" She'd yelled out to them, managing to see them getting ready to toss the body overboard through the still open door. "At least.... at least let us say a prayer for him..."
One of the sailors had laughed. "You want a prayer little girl?" A chuckle as they started to swing the body back and forth. "This poor fellow, he was bad. Got send a-sailing, and now he's dead." In a roar of laughter they'd let go of the body. The remains flew overboard and plunged into the salt sea. 

John softly patted the blond girl's shoulder. "Calm down lass... Here..." He said, reaching down and tearing of a part of his bread. "Have a bite to eat." Catherine shook her head. "Aw come on now, just a wee bit..." 
"No" She managed. "It's no use to me... My stomach won't take it..."
John sighed, putting down the slice. "A story then?" He suggested. 
Cathy nodded softly. John smiled. "Long ago, when brave knights roamed around the forests of England and good kings looked after the land..." 
Cathy let his voice slowly let her mind drift off. Drift off, out of the ship, beyond the great oceans to a small place in the heart of London, where her mother was sitting in front of the fireplace and her brothers were rolling around on the floor playing... And somehow she cried herself to sleep. 

John looked down upon the small body tucked against his shoulder and softly shook his head. "It's a god damn sin, Richard." He mumbled to the man sitting beside him "A poor child like her, deported to the Southland... and for what? Stealing a piece of bread to keep her family alive... A god be damned sin 'tis..." 
"Aye." Richard, a dark haired man in his late thirties nodded. "She's in bad shape, she is... We have to get some food into her, or she won't make it..." 
"I pray 'tisn't much longer." The older man murmured, softly stroking some tears away from the girl's cheek. 
Richard sighed. "So do I, Johnny. So do I..." 

Cathy slowly blinked her eyes open. Except for the small patch of light shining through the tiny window in the door, all was dark. 
"Had a good night's sleep?" 
Catherine looked up into warm brown eyes. "As good as can be expected." She muttered, stretching and popping some bones back in place. 
"All right..." John said. "This morning we have prepared a delicious breakfast for you, my lady..." He went on in a posh English accent. He produced a plate with several small bits of bread "We have white bread, whole meal...and... uhm..." He lifted a small piece and examined it. "and slightly fungused bread... Take your pick..."
Cathy chuckled a little in spite of herself. "No... You guys eat it, I'm not hungry..."
"Lass, have ya looked at yerself lately?" Richard said. "You're all skin and bones love. Come on... Eat a bite..." 
Cathy looked up into their pleading eyes and didn't have the heart to say no. "Oh, all right, but no fungus OK?" 
"Ya got it" Richard smiled. 
Catherine picked up a small piece of bread and popped it into her mouth. Her stomach immediately growled at her angrily, but she just closed her eyes and swallow her breakfast, then looked at her friends. "Thanks guys." 
"My pleasure." Richard smiled. "You want us to sing for ya as well?" 
Cathy chuckled. "Please don't..." 
"Tch... I'm hurt." John said, feigning insult. "People say I've got a lovely voice, ya know?" 
"Yeah right." The girl laughed, lightly patting him on the shoulder. "No offence to you or your beautiful voice, John, but I think I'd rather digest in silence." 
"Suit yerself." John waved her off, smiling, happy to see her good humor had returned. 

Days passed. Cathy tried to eat the small amount of food they were given, but her stomach would only allow for bits and pieces. Not enough to sustain her body. John and Richard watched in fear as she grew thinner and thinner, losing all her energy. 

That morning some of the sailors walked down the steps and unchained ten prisoners at a time to take them upstairs. "You see, Cat? We can go up soon, get some fresh air." John said, softly touching the girl's shoulder. 
Cathy's eyes blinked open and foggily looked up at him. She nodded softly, then closed her eyes again. 
John looked at Richard, concern in his eyes. 
Richard slowly shook his head and sighed. "Only a miracle can save her now Johnny." He whispered softly. "Only a miracle..." 

Soon after the first ten came back the sailors came closer, unlocking Catherine's chain. "Come on girl, move!" The first one barked at her. 
Cathy tried to stand, but her knees collapsed under her. John rushed over and caught her. "I'll help her up." He directed at the sailor, who nodded, then started to move upstairs. 
John wrapped an arm around the girl's shoulder and then slowly guided her up. "Come on, Catherine." He muttered softly to her. "I know yer stronger than this. Hang in there." 
Cathy nodded weakly, but said nothing. 

As they came outside, John guided her to the railing and let her lean over the side of the boat. After a few breaths Cathy turned and looked at her friend. "Go on, I'll be fine." 
John shook his head. "I'm stayin' here" 
"You need to stretch your legs... Go on, I'll be all right for five minutes." 
John looked at her, frowning his brows, then nodded slowly. "I'll be right back, OK?" 

John slowly started walking to the other side of the boat. As he was about to turn around and walk back he felt a tug on his chain. "Back in line." A gruff voice said, dragging him towards where several others were standing. 
"No! I have to..." He started, struggling back towards the silent figure on the other side. 
"No complaints from you old man." A harder tug and John stumbled back. 

"Time's up girl, back down with you now." A voice sounded behind Cathy. There was no response. "Hey, didn't ya hear me? Hey!" A hard pull on the chain made the girl loose her balance and she fell to her knees. Slowly tired eyes looked up at the gruff looking sailor towering over her. "Get up!" He barked at her. 
Cathy slowly tried to get to her feet, but she failed and fell again." 
"Up I said!" The voice thundered. A sharp pain seared through her as a boot harshly hit her side. Cathy crumbled, rolling herself into a ball. 

"Get away from her, ya bastard!" John's voice sounded from far away. A rattling of chains followed and a loud "Hold him!" as several of the crew came running over. 
A hand took hold of her arm and dragged her up. "I can't." She managed. Her head swept aside as a hard fist slammed into her cheek. 

Cathy felt the world around her slipping. She vaguely heard the muffled screams and felt the punches and kicks against her body, but somehow they didn't mater anymore. Slowly she let herself slide off into painless depths. 

"It's a ship!" 
The sailor stopped his beating and looked up towards the crow's nest. A small boy was now rapidly making his way down. "Capt'n, capt'n! It's a ship, an English ship!" 

A well dressed man came storming through a door onto the deck. "A ship?" 
"Aye Capt'n!" the boy said, saluting his superior as he ran over "And it carries British sails, sir. It must be from Australia." 
Cheers sounded from the crew, who rushed over to the side of the boat, edging over the railing to catch a glimpse of the oncoming vessel. The captain walked towards the bow and lifted his hand in salute as the ship sailed closer.

"Lower the anchor!" He yelled behind him and moments later there was a loud splashing of water as the anchor plunged into the sea. More chains rattled as the prisoners were taken downstairs, John struggling to get back to the still body, lying forgotten in a corner. 

Slowly the second ship approached. An 'ahoy!' was shouted and the captain cheerfully replied. 
"Captain, I have a message for you!" A deep voice echoed over the silent sea. Then there was a rushing of air as a tall form gracefully swung itself by rope from one ship to the other. White teeth flashed as a pistol appeared. "Surprise!" The voice said cheerfully. 

A gunshot followed and the skipper, who had been standing next to his captain, grabbed for his chest and then fell, hitting the wooden floor with a load thump. A roar followed as more of the crew of the second ship grabbed onto ropes and swung over. 

The dark haired woman, who had been the first to land aboard, let out a wild yell, immediately echoed by her men. More gunshots were fired. The crew of the prison ship tried to offer resistance, the captain shouting out orders left and right. As he looked up, two pale blue eyes were staring straight at him, a predatory smile crossing the woman's face as she drew her saber. 
A sailor came running for her. With an easy swipe of the metal she swept his weapon out of his hand, then lunged forward, driving the saber through his heart. Determinedly she made her way towards where the captain was standing, cutting off limbs as they came towards her, seemingly without effort. 

The well dressed man saw her approach, fear glinting in his eyes. Seeing no other escape he ran towards the side of the ship, towards the ocean. But before he could jump, hands grabbed onto the back of his jacket. 
"Oh no you don't." A low voice rumbled in his ear. "You're worth way too much to just feed to the sharks." The woman stated, turning him around to face her. "Though I have to say the idea is tempting." 
"You... you're The Curse, aren't you?" 
The woman chuckled as she pushed the captain towards where the rest of his crew was standing, the remaining few now all tied up. "So, you've heard of me? Good, a girl's gotta mind her reputation, don't you think?" 
"You won't get away with this!" The captain managed, struggling. "The Governor will come and..." 
Another low chuckle. "I've gotten away with this for three years now, so I'm not too concerned." She said, patting him on the cheek. "But thanks for the warning." With a hard shove she pushed him in the middle of the crowd of tied up men. "Take them away." She ordered her men with a wave of her hand. Immediately they started to move the captured crew over to their boat via large wooden boardwalks that attached the two vessels to one another. 

The tall woman stood quietly, taking in her blood spattered surroundings, then smiled. "Another fine battle." She told herself cheerfully, as she wiped the blood from her saber before putting it back into the scabbard. 

Steps echoed down the stairs into the cargo hole, then ran back up again. "Lara!" 
The dark haired woman turned and regarded the brown haired, bearded man that was now pacing towards her. His face was grimly set. "How bad is it Matt?" Her low voice rumbled softly as he stopped before her. 
"About two hundred left." 
"Bastards." Lara spit out under her breath. "Stupid idiots." 
"Hmmm." Matthew, her second in command, agreed in a mutter. "At least these ones all appear quite healthy. I think these will all make it to the mainland." 
"I hope so." Lara stated quietly, then straightened. "Move 'm to our ship. You know the drill." 
Matthew gave her a nod, then stalked off, calling out some names as he slid below deck. 

"Capt'n!" A voice now shouted from another direction. 
Lara looked up to see one of the younger sailors waving her over. Other men were standing behind him, all huddled around something. The captain stepped closer. 
"It's another one, capt'n." The young boy stated, as he moved aside to let Lara pass. 

On hearing her approaching steps the other men stepped aside as well to reveal a small bruised form huddled in a corner.
"Is she…?" The sailor asked softly, peaking passed the captain's tall form. 

Lara stood quietly for a moment, looking at the bent form, blonde hair scattered over a young girl's face. She knelt down beside the still shape and softly touched two fingers to her neck. A breath, then she looked up at the blinking faces of her crew. "She's alive" She stated, then turned to look at the bruised face of the captive. "Barely…" She muttered, softly touching one of the bruises. 
For a moment she sat there, quietly, then she ordered her thoughts and stood. "Tobias, go help Matthew with the captives" She ordered the boy that had spoken to her earlier. "Then make sure you get the healer to go over all of 'm." Another look at the quiet form lying at her feet. "I'll take care of this one." 

Tobias gave her a brief nod. "Aye capt'n." And with that he scurried off, followed by the rest of the crew. 

Lara bent down, wrapped one arm around the girl's shoulder and another behind her knees, then stood, lifting her burden off the wooden deck. "God, you're light as a feather, you are." She muttered to the still face. Then she walked over to the edge of the ship, where wooden planks were now placed to form a bridge from one ship to the other. She pushed herself off and hopped onto the wooden plank, making it bounce slightly, then walked high above the water to her ship. 

The body in her arms stirred suddenly, probably alarmed by the sudden movement, then dazed green eyes blinked open en looked up at her. 

Lara stared at the girl's face for a moment and something inside her stirred, something vaguely familiar. Somehow a smile worked its way onto her face. "Don't worry. I've got you." She heard herself say. 
Those green eyes stared at her intently for another moment, then the girl smiled back and closed her eyes again, her body sinking back into Lara's arms. 

The captain stepped off the plank and on board of her own vessel. Matthew was already on board and gave her a nod as she passed him. "Take care of things for me, Matt. I'm gonna try to patch this here up." She told her second in command, indicating her burden. 
"I'll get things sorted, Lara." Matthew stated. "Do you want to keep the boat?" 

Lara turned around to look at the convict ship, the spot where she'd found the girl just visible through the railing. "Sink it." She heard herself say, in a tone more fierce than it ought to have been. 
Matthew nodded, then walked towards the stern, shouting out some orders. 

Lara continued on her way, pushing open a door, then entering a small cabin. She walked over to the bed that was placed in the right corner and softly put the girl down on it, then walked to the desk near the large window at the back of the room and started to sort through some drawers. 

Sounds slowly started to penetrate into Cathy's dazed mind. The soft sound of the waves hitting wood. An inner sigh. Nothing had changed then, had it…? 
But then other sounds, soft footsteps edging closer and moving away again, a grinding sound, which reminded her of the mortar her mother used to use in the kitchen, rustling of fabric as more footsteps sounded.

Cathy slowly edged her eyes open. She stared up at a wooden ceiling, similar to the one in the cargo hold, but everything here was much lighter than it had been before. She forced her hands to push her up, then with a gasp slid back into the soft mattress again, muscles tensed in pain. More rustling, then quick footsteps edged closer and moments later the sight of the wooden ceiling was replaced by a dark head, pale blue eyes gazing at her intently. "You shouldn't do that." A low voice rumbled. 
"Now you tell me." Cathy managed, closing her eyes for a brief moment, trying to push back the pain, then opening them again. "Whe…where am I? What happened?" 

The woman sat down beside the bed on a chair and mixed some herbs into a creamy mixture, stirring it softly. "You are on board my ship." She stated, focusing all her intention on her mixing. "And as to what happened to you, I haven't got the faintest idea. I found you the way you are now." She now stuck a finger in the mixture and lifted some out of the jar. "All right, this might hurt a bit."
"What's that?" 
"Medicine" Her companion stated simply, then reached over and spread some on a bruise on her forearm. 

Cathy winced but just bit down and kept quiet. She closed her eyes, trying to remember anything of the previous hours. 

Pain. That was the clearest thing she could remember. She remembered feeling herself sinking away, very slowly, and she was just willing to let go completely, when she heard this voice… Not words, just the voice… And something in her suddenly grabbed onto life with both hands and had refused to let go. After that, nothing…. A face, blurry, for a brief moment and then this.

"You hungry?" 
She blinked her eyes back open again as the dark haired woman's voice forced her out of her thoughts.
She looked to her side to see the woman quietly sitting beside her, a small silver plate with some food resting on her knee. "Uhm…" She felt her body yelling out for some nourishment, but her stomach immediately protested, and in reply she softly shook her head. "No, thanks." 
The dark face gave her an odd look. "Oh come on, you have to be kidding me…" The woman said, standing and leaning over Cathy. "Have you looked at yourself lately? You have to eat, or your body's never gonna manage with this." The low voice told her sternly 
"Stomach won't take it." Cathy managed, her belly rumbling dangerously in response. 

The tall body backed away. "Oh…" Then she strode off again. The sound of drawers opening and closing edged into Cathy's ears, then the trickling of water being poured into a glass. Moments later the woman stood beside her again and held out the glass to her. Tiny flakes were drifting around in the liquid. 

Catherine's stomach immediately let out a protest and she slammed her teeth shut to force down a wave of nausea. She shook her head at the offering. 
"It's medicine, it'll let your stomach settle." 
Another shake of the blond head. 

Blue eyes glared at her for a moment, then shrugged. "All right, well, don't tell me I didn't try to do this the polite way…" She muttered, then fingers grabbed hold of Cathy's nose firmly. 
"Hey!" Cathy said, "What do you think you…" Was al she could get out before a splash of water entered her mouth. She wanted to spit it out, but a hand firmly clasped it self over her mouth and she was forced to swallow the liquid down. 

The hand slowly removed itself and the woman sat back on her chair. 
A surge of nausea waved up. Cathy bit down tight. "What in the name of God all…" She then fell silent, as her stomach-ache suddenly receded and muscles that had been tense now for months finally relaxed. "Oh…" She managed as her whole body relaxed into blissful calmt. "It… it worked." 
"Of course it did." Blue eyes looked at her knowingly, then she reached over for the silver plate she'd put on the floor and put it on the side of the bed. 

Cathy looked at it for a moment, then her hand slowly reached out and picked up a slice of bread. She hesitantly started chewing. As she swallowed she closed her eyes and a smile sprung to her face. "Hmmm…" Then her eyes blinked open again and eyed the woman sitting next to her quietly. "Thank you."
Blue eyes diverted as the captain shrugged in response. She straightened and stood. "I…uhm… I have some stuff to attend to…" Then she turned and walked out the door, leaving Cathy in silence.

Catherine stuffed another piece of bread into her mouth and happily snuggled deeper into the soft pillow that supported her head. Her whole body hurt from the beating, she was exhausted from not having eaten in months... She should feel awful, really.... Yet, she hadn't felt this good in ages. A new energy had washed over her... The sudden feeling of freedom, probably, she told herself. 
She sighed happily. Freedom...
It was so good to know there were still people in the world that really cared, people who saved others just... Just because they needed to be saved... 
She smiled, then put the now empty platter aside on the wooden floor and closed her eyes. Soon she drifted off into pleasant dreams. 

The second in command turned around and smiled as his captain approached. She smiled back at him and placed her arms on the railing of the boat, slightly leaning forward to gaze out over the calm waters, where the sun was now slowly starting it's descend. 
They stood there quietly for a moment, then she looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"All's well. The prisoners are downstairs. They're fed and Andrew checked them out. Some cuts and bruises... malnourishment of course, but otherwise fine."
Lara nodded softly as she returned her gaze to the blue see.
"How's the young one?"
"As well as can be expected." Lara murmured softly. "She's seasick, so she wasn't eating well... And then those bastards..." The last word was merely a rumble. She was quiet a moment to let the sudden anger subside. "Did you find the guy that did this?"
"Aye" Matthew confirmed. "He's down below. Bright red hair, red beard, white shirt... well, it was white before you gashed his arm anyway." Her friend informed her with a grin.
Lara grinned back. "Good." She let some thoughts roll around in her head for a moment, then focused on business again. "So... how much?"
"Well, there's a total of 167 captives, 168 including the girl" Matthew stated. "At about five pounds per slave, we ought to make a good eight hundred pounds out of those. A couple hundred ransom for the Captain and higher officers down there..." He said, pointing his thumb at a door that led to the lower deck. "Should keep us alive until the next convict ship, right capt'n?"
Lara grinned at him "Shouldn't be a problem. Though I think we should raise our prizes... We are after all the only source of slaves, since for some mysterious reason, no prisoners ship ever seems to make it to the Southland." A low chuckle shivered through the air. "Oh yes, the governor is gonna be soooo happy to see me again."

With a slight crack the door edged open and Lara stepped inside. The room was quiet, and as she turned her head, she saw a peacefully sleeping form, curled up on her bed. A smile quietly crossed the woman's face. She softly walked over to her desk and placed a small bundle, wrapped in linen rags on the surface, then crept over to the bedside. 

The girl had somehow managed to turn to lie on her side and had her arms wrapped around the pillow that supported her head, blonde hair scattered over the white sheets. She sat down on the small chair beside the bed, and quietly gazed at the soft features, lips quirked into a small smile. 

What was it...? What was it that had made her decide to just take care of this young thing? She leaned her elbows on her knees and bent her head. To safe this girls life, just to... A sigh. 
She looked up again. The face before her had turned more serious, and a tiny frown edged her forehead, her right brow furrowing slightly. 

That look... A memory flashed into her mind. 

"Lara, we can't do that." A boy with half long, black hair stated, crossing his arms and eyeing the street ahead of him suspiciously. 
"Ow, come on Mark, don't give me that look."
He looked at her and raised his brow in question. "What look?"
"That 'I don't trust this cause you always get us into trouble' look." Lara stated, staring back at her younger brother. 
"Well, you do." Mark retorted grumpily, gazing back at the street again. "I remember that time you send me into that tree to fetch that cat, cause it couldn't get out on it's own, you said...." 
Lara smiled at the memory. "It did quite well when you finally climbed on the highest branch though, didn't it?"
Mark gave her a foul look. "I still have bruises from that you know. And then there was that time I got stuck in the chimney cause you told me Santa Claus was up there, or that time you took me skating and pushed me straight into a tree, or..."
"Yeah yeah yeah..." Lara waved him off. "But this is not like that, OK? Look, Mark, with mom sick, I'm in charge now, and we have to get ourselves some food. You just have to cause a distraction, I'll grab some apples and we're out of here, OK?"
Mark sighed and rolled his eyes. "OK."
"Good boy." His sister grinned. "Now," She stated, taking his arm. "You just pretend you sprained your ankle, right, and make a big riot, then..."

Lara closed her eyes and swallowed. She stood slowly and walked to her desk, sinking into her chair. "Oh Mark... That's it, isn't it...? She looks so much like you... Similar circumstances too..." She whispered quietly to the nothing. "I'm trying to get you back through her, aren't I?" A shake of the dark head. "What am I doing...? Like saving her is going to turn back time. Stop me from getting caught and getting us on that prison ship... stop me from getting you...."

With a loud thump the body sagged onto the floor. Soft green eyes peered up from under long dark locks. "Please sir" He gasped softly. A chuckle was his only reply as a leather boot slammed itself into his side.
"No! Stop it!" Lara yelled, as she wildly tugged on her chains. "You leave him alone!"
Dark gray eyes turned towards her for a second, rotten and yellow teeth flashing at her. "You'll get your part later bitch, now be quiet!"
With a vicious grin he turned back to the boy, who was trying to get on his feet again, leaning on the wooden edge of the ship. "Now boy..." The sailor growled, moving closer quickly and grabbing onto Mark's neck, lifting him up and slamming him against the wooden wall. The boy gasped for breath as his airways got blocked by the powerful grip and stared wide eyed at the sailor in front of him.
"Ow, we're scared now, are we?" A chuckle. "Too late, boy, you should've considered this before you interfered in my business."
Mark stared at him, trying to keep calm. "You..." He managed, gasping in a lung full of air. "...should stay away from my sister."
A growl escaped the sailor's throat and with a wild yell he pushed the boy away, sending him flying for a couple of meters, then land on the hard wooden deck. "Don't mess with me, boy!" He stated lifting him up again and backslapping him across the face before letting him fall to the floor again. "You'll die to regret it." A final kick made Mark fall backwards, stumbling down the stairs into the cargo hold and a hard thud echoed up as he hit the bottom of the deck. 

"No!" Lara yelled out, struggling even harder. 
"Yes." The brown haired man hissed as he slowly edged closer to where she was standing. Wild blue eyes met his in defiance, then she leaned forward and spit in his face.
He stumbled backwards, then recovered himself, wiping the spit of his face with a swipe of his sleeve. "Why you..." He rumbled, lifting his hand....

"Enough Joseph!" A man dressed in a dark blue suit, his brown hair drawn back, stepped forward with determined steps. "You can have fun with the prisoners later, now there's work to be done." The captain stated, crossing his arms and looking at the sailor.
Slowly the hand dropped. Grey eyes stared at the captain quietly. "Aye capt'n." He then muttered, and slowly walked away, giving Lara one last look filled with nothing but hatred.

Chains rattled and they were dragged back down to the cargo hold. As they reached the bottom of he stairs, Lara spotted the still body in the shadows. With a quick pull, she managed to work herself free and ran for the form lying near the stairs. "Mark?" She whispered softly. "Marky, come on, talk to me..." 
Green eyes slowly blinked open and a soft smile crossed her brother's face. "It... It's too late..." 
"No." Anger flashed across the blue eyes. "No, come on, you can pull through this... Mark, come on." She urged, softly shaking his shoulder. 
"Heaven's... supposed to be nice... Isn't it, sis?" Mark managed, his breathing now coming in heavy rasps. His fingers reached out and wrapped themselves around her hand. 
She gazed at his face, his eyelids now slowly closing. "Yeah, it is, Mark. It is...." She whispered.
His smile broadened slightly, then there was another rasp of air. Then nothing. 

Lara felt the chains tugging on her, pulling her back. "He won't get away with this, Mark.... He'll pay... I promise you I'll make him pay." She whispered in her brother's ear, before she got dragged away from the still body, and hard hands pushed her to the wall, chaining her. 
She sat there, silently, as a loud plunge echoed through the hull, echoed through her mind, filling her whole being with nothing but hatred and a need for revenge. 

Lara drew in a raspy breath and ran a shaking hand through her dark locks. "Well, they paid, didn't they Mark...?.." She told the air quietly as she stood and took a few paces through the cabin. " I've made them pay, time after time again." A mirror caught her reflection, and Lara stood still, gazing at the pale blue eyes that stared at her intently. "And look what I've become..." She uttered softly, the words drifting up in a puff of air, a small cloud sailing up into the cooling night's air.

A soft sound brought Lara back from her dreams. She placed the coat she'd been lying under aside and stood up from her chair, stretching as soar muscles started to complain.
Another soft sound escaped the girl that was lying on the bed. She was tossing and turning in her bed, which had to be quite painful, Lara realized. She softly walked closer and gazed down on the young girl's face, which was now distorted in pain. Slowly she leaned over and shook the girl's shoulder. "Hey..."
A few more twitches, then her eyes shot open, shock and pain evident in the green depths. She tried to sit up for a moment, but Lara pushed her back down. "Don't worry, it was just a bad dream..."

Cathy blinked at her, then calmed a bit. "No, it wasn't... It was... I remembered..." 
Blue eyes looked at her quietly. Catherine just gazed back at them a moment. "What's your name?"
The captain blinked, obviously not having expected the question, then she recovered her pose.. "Which name do you want?" She asked. "I've got lots... The Curse, The Torment of the Southern Seas...."
Catherine smiled. "First name will do."
"Lara." Lara stated.
"Well... Lara... You do realize you saved my life, right?"
The dark haired woman looked away and shrugged. 
"Well, you did... And... I don't know what I can do to repay you, but... anything I can do, just say the word..."
Lara shook her head. "You don't need to do anything,..." She stopped and gave the girl a questioning glance.
"Catherine. It's... It's just what I do..." She stated, refusing to meet the girl's eyes.
"Well, you've got one great job then."
"Oh yeah, just great..." Lara muttered to herself softly, in a sarcastic tone. She suddenly stood and walked towards a barrel in the far corner, then returned with a glass of water. "Here... You're probably thirsty...."
Cathy thought about this and realized she was. She took the glass and gulped the liquid down. "Hmmm... It feels good to just be able to drink again... and eat..." She cast her eyes down. "It was so bad on there... I couldn't eat anything and... And so many people around me, they just... I was really tired..." She revealed softly, not even knowing why she was bothering her savior with this, but just having a need to talk. "When.... When that guy started to beat me... I was actually glad...It hurt, but... but I knew that, soon, it was going to all be over.... I..." A sob as a single tear started to roll down her cheek.

Lara blinked, not being sure what to do. Quickly her hand dug into a pocket and she retrieved a handkerchief. Softly she leaned forward and dabbed the tear of the girl's face. Watery green eyes turned to her. "I'm... I'm sorry, I shouldn't bother you with this... I just..."
Lara nervously waved her hand. "Don't... Don't worry 'bout it... I... It's normal to feel that way. The English, they're bastards... Don't worry bout things, I'll take care of stuff... Just... Just rest, get some sleep... OK?"
The green eyes blinked, then the girl nodded softly and smiled at her. She found herself mirroring the smile, then she took the glass from the girl's hands and walked back to her desk, placing the glass on the surface. When she returned to the girl's bedside, Catherine had already drifted off to sleep again. She looked at the silent form for a moment, then reached down and tucked the covers up a bit higher. 

A girl like that shouldn't be here, she told herself. Nobody could convince her that this kid did something so horrible that it required deportation... How could the English just send someone like her off to a country thousands of miles away and be able to sleep at night? How could some sailor just look her in the eyes and... 

Blue eyes narrowed dangerously...

With a smash the door lunged open. The crash woke up the inhabitants of the lower deck. A large group of men and women, sitting on benches behind bars of steel watched a dark form stride through the aisle. The dark haired woman was dressed in a black cloak and bright blue eyes peered at them as she searched the cages for a specific person. 

John pushed himself forward until he could place his hand on the bars and peered out. Richard soon edged himself up next to her. "Who is it?" He whispered, as he peered into the darkness. 
"That woman... The captain I think..."
"She the one that took Cathy?"
John just nodded. 

Lara searched the faces until she finally found who she was looking for. The captain and his crew were in a similar cell as the captives were, but, unlike the others, they were also chained and some gagged. She strode over to the cell and unlocked it, stepping inside quietly. She looked the men over, until bright red hair caught her gaze. Blue eyes stared into his gray ones as an unpleasant smile crossed her face. She unlocked his chain, then grabbed onto his arms and twisted them behind his back. "Let's go.... We have some... business to settle." She told him in a sweet voice. 
He struggled against her hold, but his resistance was useless and he let himself be pushed up onto the deck. "What do you want from me?" He growled. 

As they reached the deck, Lara gave him a savage push forward, making him stumble and fall. She closed the door to the cargo hold behind her, then faced the sailor, who was scrambling up and then turned to face her. 
She smiled sweetly at him and slowly stepped closer. "Do you remember a young girl... Blond... About this high?" She asked him quietly, indicating the height with her right hand. 
He stumbled backwards, trying to escape from the raging blue eyes. "I..." He mumbled, not knowing what she wanted from him.
"Do you remember kicking your boot into a defenseless kid, just because she wasn't quick enough in obeying your every wish." The dark voice hissed, closing in on him. "Do you?"
"I...I don't know what you're talking about, lady..." He stuttered, then he was swept aside by a hard object slamming into his face. He stumbled to get up again and was helped by a hand that wrapped itself around his neck. 
"I am talking about a girl you nearly killed, then left on the deck to rot... That's what I'm talking about you bastard." She growled, slamming him up against the wooden side of her cabin. 
"It's just one girl. What do you care?" He gasped, trying to suck breath into his lungs desperately. "I'll pay you for the loss, if that's what you're after. I've got a friend in Sydney, he..." 
A knee impacted with his stomach and he crumbled on the floor. "I don't want you're dirty money." Lara growled. "I want you to know how it feels." A boot slammed into his side. 
"No..." His voice managed. "No... Please... No more..." 
"Did you stop when your victims pleaded?" Was her response, followed by an even harder kick. 
"I'll... I'll change!" He yelled out in pain. "I'll never do it again, I promise." He wiped the blood that was dripping out of his mouth away with his hand. 

Lara was quiet for a moment, and took a few paces back. Her victim scrambled to his feet, cradling his left arm with his right. "Thank you...I won't..."
"I know that bastards like you don't change..." A dark voice rumbled, interrupting him. "And I don't like scum like you..." An evil grin edged itself onto her face. "But sharks do..."
His eyes grew wide. "No..." 
"Yes." She hissed, then she grabbed onto the collar of his shirt and swung him around, pushing him up against the railing. "Tell them Lara send her regards." And with a flick of her hand she pushed him into the dark seas below. He screamed as he hit the waves. A loud splashing sounded, followed by the sounds of large fish breaking the surface. Another loud scream echoed trough the night air, then all was quiet again.

Lara stood there quietly for a moment as the wind blew back her dark hair. Footsteps sounded behind her, then Matthew stopped beside her. "Lara..."
"One less prisoner to feed tomorrow Matt... Tell the cook..." And with that she stepped away and entered her cabin, shutting the door behind her.

As she stepped inside a soft rustling sounded and Catherine poked her head up, blinking at her with sleepy eyes. "I heard this loud bang... and then voices... Did something happen?" 
Lara managed a smile. "Nothing happened... I was just taking out some trash... Sorry if I woke you up..."
"Oh." Catherine said softly. "That's OK." She settled back into her pillow and closed her eyes. "Good night, Lara."
"Good night" Lara looked at the silent form for another moment, until she heard the girl's breathing deepen. The smile faded off her face and she made her way to her desk chair, sagging into it. She rested her elbows on the table and hid her face in her hands. She sat quietly like this for a moment, then settled back in her chair, spreading her cloak over her for warmth and closing her eyes. But it wasn't until much later that her body finally surrendered into sleep. 

A soft knock on the door awoke her. She stood and stretched, wrapping her cloak around her as she walked towards the door and pulled it open. 
"Capt'n." Toby greeted her with a nod. 
Lara spared a quick look for the girl, that was still fast asleep in her bed, then slipped out the door and softly closed it behind her. "Morning Toby. What's up?"
"They're switching to the morning shift, capt'n. Mr. Matthew is asking for you. Says he wants to talk about something."
Lara sighed. "Where is he?"
"Just went into his quarters, capt'n."
"Thank you." She said, ruffling the young boy's hair. "Go get some sleep Toby, I'll see you tonight."
"Aye." Toby smiled, then walked off. 

Lara pushed the door on the opposite side of hers open, scaring her second in command, who was just taking off his shirt, half to death. "Jesus Lara, don't you knock anymore?!"
"Come on, Matt, nothing I haven't seen before." The captain stated, raising an eyebrow as Matthew hastily pulled his shirt back over his head. "You wanted to talk?"
"Uhm... Yeah..." Matthew straightened and took a deep breath. "And I think you know what it's about." Another breath. "Lara, you know I usually don't interfere with any of your decisions..."
"So don't now..." Lara said, crossing her arms. 
"You're not thinking straight." Matthew retorted, taking a step closer. "Remember what we're doing here Lara. You said it yourself so many times. This is business. We can't let our emotions get in the way."
"I'm not letting them get in the way!" Lara's eyes flashed
"You killed a man yesterday just because he hurt your little friend in there!" Matthew retorted, not afraid of the dangerously narrowing eyes. "You can't do that Lara, that guy would've gotten us some ransom."
"He was just a sailor."
"But the governor needs any hand he can get now. Or his friends would've helped him out." Matthew looked his captain straight in the eyes. "We need the money Lara. Eight hundred is gonna keep us alive for a while, but it's not a lot and you know it. That girl was not worth half the money he would've made."
"He doesn't deserve to live. Piece of scum... He hurt her." 
"Like Joseph hurt your brother?"

In a flash she moved forward and pushed Matthew against the wall, her forearm pressing into his throat. "Don't you dare say that again." She hissed.
"You know I'm right." Matthew stated in a calm voice. The hold loosened slightly, but he was still pressed against the wall. "Lara." 
The captain gave him one last glare, then stepped back. Matthew softly rubbed his throat. "You have some grip there." 

Lara stared at him another moment, then threw up her hands and sat down on Matthew's bed. "I know... I know I... I see him in her... But can you blame me? You knew him, Matt, you see it too, don't you?" She whispered in a soft voice. 
Matthew slowly walked over and sat down beside her. "I see it too. But she's not him, you realize that don't you? You can never get him back, Lara."

It was quiet for a moment until Lara's dark voice broke the silence. "I realized something yesterday Matthew."
"I don't like myself a lot."
Matthew shook his head. "Lara..."
"No... I.. I take people's lives and toy with them. I..."
"You saved those people from that ship, you give them space to move, good food..."
"And I sell them..."
Matthew softly put a hand on her shoulder. "We need to make a living Lara."
"I know that...."
"Then stop being so hard on yourself. You're doing these people a favor. Don't turn yourself into some kind of monster. You're not."
Lara sighed, but said nothing.
"Look, stop doing this to yourself. Let me take the girl. I'll take her down to the cargo hold..."
"No." Lara's head shot up. "No..."
"This is just gonna hurt you... Don't you see? I'm just trying to help..."
"No... I..." Blue eyes softly looked into brown ones. "I have to do this, Matthew..."
Her second in command gave her a look.
"Just... Just until she regains her strength."
"You promise me that when she's well you'll send her down to the others?"
Lara took a deep breath. "Yes."
A moment of silence. "All right. But don't get attached Lara, remember, this is..."
"Business." Lara finished. "I know..."
They were quiet a moment, then Lara patted his shoulder and stood. "Get some sleep, Matt, I'll see you in the evening." Matthew nodded. She strode over to the door and pulled it open. 
She turned, raising an eyebrow.
"You know why I said this, right? I don't want you and I to argue about this or..."
"I know, Matt." Lara interrupted him. She was quiet for a moment, then smiled. "Thank you."
Matthew smiled back at her. Lara turned and pulled the door shut behind her. 

Catherine woke up as a beam of light peeked through the window. She blinked and slowly opened her eyes, letting them get used to the light. She took in her surroundings, smiled to herself, then stretched. 
"Ugh, I shouldn't have done that." She winced as her bruises spoke up. 
She slowly pulled herself up and looked around the room, that was now basking in the early morning light. Her eyes fell on the glass of water on the small table next to her, tiny flakes floating in the liquid. Next to it was a sandwich on a small plate. A smile crossed her face as she lifted the glass, gulped down the mixture then reached out for the plate. 
Her stomach was getting used to the food again. It had been a bit awkward the first time she'd really eaten, after so many months, but she felt her body starting to adjust again, starting to strengthen a bit. It felt really, really good, she cheerfully informed herself as she popped the last bit of bread into her mouth. 

She sat in the bed quietly for a few moments, but quickly got bored. She glanced around the room, looking for something interesting. The bright blue of the ocean glared at her through the window. She bit her lip. "I guess she wouldn't mind if I just took a few steps..."
It was gonna be painful, she realized, but she so wanted to see if her body would allow her to walk again. Slowly she pushed the blankets aside and pulled herself into a sitting position. She looked at her legs, which were really only skin over bones, then took a breath and slowly slid off the bed. 

Her knees buckled and with a loud thud she landed on the floor. "Ouch." She muttered, then tried to scramble up. She reached out for her bed and tried to push herself back up, but her arms weren't strong enough. "Oh, come on.." She managed, almost in a state of tears. She took a firmer hold of the bed and pulled again. She put all her effort into it, straining what muscles she had, but it didn't work. She was just about to let go and sag back on the floor when suddenly a hand wrapped around her shoulder and slowly pulled her up. With a shock she turned her head to see blue eyes looking back at her. 

Lara guided her back into bed. Catherine settled back in the mattress with an exhausted expression on her face. It took several moment to catch her breath, then she blinked up into the blue eyes hanging above her. Lara was towering over the bed, her arms crossed. "What do you think you were doing?" The dark voice rumbled dangerously.
"I was just... I just wanted to..."
"Your body is not ready to stand yet. You have to rest."
"I got bored of resting."
A dark eyebrow raised.
"Well, would you be able to lie in a bed all day and do nothing? I just wanted to walk over to the window, take a look..." And then in a quieter voice. "And I can't even do that..."

Lara tried to give the girl another angry look, but failed miserably and sighed. "Just give your body a break and you'll be running around in no time..."
Green eyes peeked up at her. "Really?"
"Yeah...But you have to stay still."
Cathy sighed. "But this is so boring... I hate just sitting around and doing nothing..."
Lara sat down next to the bed. "I'll cut you a deal, all right? You stay in bed the rest of today and don't make a sound... and I'll let you sit up on deck tomorrow.. How's that?" 
A huge smile spread across the young girl's face. "That'd be great! I never really saw much of the sea before... Can I, really?"
Lara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but remember, no more walking around, you hear?"
Catherine nodded eagerly. 
"Good." The captain stated, as she stood. "I'll get someone to bring over some food for you..." She was quiet a moment, then walked over to her desk and pulled out one of the bottom drawers, retrieving a small object. She walked back over to Catherine and placed the thing in her hands. It was a small metal puzzle, two rings, one through the other. "The point is to get them loose. That should keep you busy for a while." 
"Oh." Catherine said cheerfully, immediately starting to fiddle with the metal. "I love those."
"Yeah, so did did a friend of mine..." Lara stated, watching the girl for a moment, then she straightened. "I gotta go... Good luck."
Catherine looked up at her and smiled. "Thanks."
Lara gave her a brief smile, then strode out the door.

Catherine watched the closed door for a moment, then softly shook her head. "She's a tough one to figure out, you know?" She commented to her metal puzzle as she twisted the first ring to the left. "I'm usually pretty good at understanding how people work, but I can't get a grasp on her." She continued, turning the other one to the right. "But I like a challenge... Don't you worry Lara, I am going to figure you out..." She informed the absent captain, as she pulled on the metal… only the find the two rings still stuck together like nothing had changed. 
A sigh. "It might just take a little while."

Lara leaned over the railing, watching the sun set in the distance. It had been a fairly easy day. They'd had a nice strong wind so the sailing had been smooth and quick and they were making excellent time. Nothing could bother them now…

A sigh. Lara turned to watch a young man rapidly make his way down from the crow's nest. "It's a ship in the distance!" He yelled, as he ran up the stairs towards where she was standing. 
Lara walked over quickly and took the binoculars out of his hand. "Where?" She asked, walking to the edge of the ship and peering out. 
"There capt'n." The boy stated, nearly out of breath, as he pointed off to starboard. "I couldn't make out any colors yet. They're too far off."
Lara raised the binoculars to her eyes. A very small ship was bobbing on the waves in the distance. She squinted to make out the color of the sails. "Blue." She muttered, lowering the instrument.
The skipper, a smaller, older man with a bald head and a white beard, who was standing a little way off, stepped closer. "British? Do we attack, cap?" He asked, his gray eyes shimmering with the expectation.
"I'm not sure, Tom." The captain muttered, looking at her skipper. Then she turned to the young man. "Get Matthew for me, will ya Ron?"
"Yes, ma'am." The boy nodded then ran of towards Matthew's room. 

Lara lifted the binoculars up again and took another look. The ship had sailed a tiny bit further and now she saw little spots of black metal glimmering in the rising sun's light. "Damn." Her head shot up. "Tom, get us as far away from that thing as possible."
"Just do it." she snapped at him, then ran down the stairs to the main deck. 
Along the way she bumped into Matthew. "What's wrong?"
"War vessel. British." Lara said, not stopping. 
"Out here? Are you sure." Matthew asked, running along behind her. 
"Ron! Jasper! Raise all sails!" She shouted at the passing deckhands, then turned back to her second in command. "I spotted five cannons, on the left side alone. I just hope they haven't spotted us yet. If they have, we're done for." She grabbed onto one of the ropes and pulled. One of the sails fell into place. "With all these people aboard they're much faster then we are." 
Matthew nodded. "I'll wake up the others, then help prepare the ship."
Lara gave him a nod and he walked off briskly, pushing open a door. 

The captain looked around quickly. As she looked up she spotted the blue flag that was still raised up near the crow's nest. "Darn, that's not gonna help..." She muttered, realizing the British warship might think they were one of their convict ships and come over to offer assistance. She jumped onto a rope ladder and pulled herself up, climbing towards the crow's nest as fast as she could. Next to her one of the sails fell as Toby and Ron unhooked the straps that held it up and the ship immediately picked up speed, throwing her off balance for a moment. She grabbed onto the ropes and hung on tight as the ship crashed through some high waves, then settled back a bit. 

Another few steps and she reached the top, quickly taking down the flag. She peered out to starboard, barely making out the small ship in the distance. It appeared to be sailing past, but she couldn't be sure from this distance. 
"Lara!" Matthew's voice sounded from down below. She looked down to see Matt pointing up at one of the sails, which had gotten stuck on a piece of rope. 

Lara looked at the problem for a moment, her mind running through options to solve the situation. Her eyes fell on one of the ropes hanging close to her, then she shrugged to herself, grabbed onto it and jumped. 

"Oh my god..." Matthew muttered, as he saw his captain grab onto the rope. "She's not going to..."
The second in command slapped a hand in front of his eyes as he saw the woman jump, peering through a gap between his fingers to see her swing down and slam her foot into the sail, where it had gotten stuck, loosening it and making it crash down with a loud snap. Lara managed to just avoid the canvas and let go of the rope just before the hard wooden beam could hit her in the head. She landing on the deck with a soft thud. 

Matthew shook his head briefly, then walked over to the captain who was straightening like nothing had happened. "Everybody up?" She asked as her second in command approached. 
"If they weren't awake yet, they sure are now." Matthew muttered, giving her a pat on the shoulder as they walked back towards the skipper. "I shouldn't be surprised at you being able to that anymore, but hell, Lara, that was amazing."
Lara chuckled softly as she reached the top of the stairs. "Tom?"
"I think we did it, cap... They don't appear to be turning. They..."

A loud thundering sound echoed across the water. Lara's head shot up to see a small cloud of smoke lift up around the ship in the distance. 
"They spotted us" Matthew murmured.
"They're not turning though." Tom added, peering through the binoculars.
Lara frowned her brows. "They must think we're a trading ship. It's a greeting." She turned and leaned over the railing, spotting Tobias nearest one of their cannons. "Toby! Fire a salute."
"Aye capt'n!" Moments later a hard noise swept across the waves and the cannonball plunged into the water a way off. The ship in the distance sailed past.

Lara, Matt and Tom looked at each other quietly. "That was close." Tom whispered. 
"They're gonna be back." Matthew added, looking at Lara quietly. "They'll reach that convict ship in a day with their speed... It won't have sunken completely by then and even if it has, things will be floating around there. It won't take them long to figure out what happened."
Lara gazed into the distance quietly. "Thomas, keep us at speed, normal course..."

Matthew joined her as she walked down the stairs to the main deck. "You know we can't out sail them, right? They are much faster than us, Lara, they'll catch up in about three days or so…"
"That'll just give us enough time to hit the Southern Coast. I know a spot there where we can hide."
"That means they'll make it to Sydney before us… They'll be waiting."
"I know that…" Lara muttered. "I'll figure something out…"
Matthew raised an eyebrow at her, but remained quiet. "So where's that hide out of yours?"
"It's a little alcove. Excellent spot. I took the rowboat in there when we had to stop to get that hole in the bough fixed."
Matthew's eyes widened. "Lara, we anchored right near that island off the coast…"
"Yes we did."
"That's right near the eye of the needle! Even with perfect weather, that's almost impossible to navigate." 
"Almost, yes, but not impossible." Lara stated, as she headed for her cabin. 
"Matthew." Lara stated, crossing her arms. "Look, if we can avoid going there, than I will. But when there's a war ship at our back with ten cannons pointing at the stern, than I'd rather take my chances with the sea. OK?"
"It's not the sea I'm worried about… It's those rocks and those hard stone walls that you're bound to knock your head against before you die." Matthew muttered. Lara just raised an eyebrow. "All right, all right…" Her second in command said, tossing up his hands in defeat. "I see your point about the cannons… But if you can think of anything else, please do, OK?" He told her with pleading eyes. "The weather's still good now, but storms are in the air. You feel that, don't you?"
Lara closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the soft breeze blow through her hair. She took a deep breath of the salty, slightly humid air. "Yes, I know that."
"Well, if we don't manage to pass the shipwreck coast before the storms hit, you can kiss that alcove of yours goodbye."
Lara rolled her eyes and sighed. "I'll think of something else if I have to. Let's just take this one step at a time, OK?"
"OK." Matthew nodded, then he patted her on the shoulder. "Get some sleep Lara. It's been a busy day."
"Yeah." The captain managed, letting out a breath. "See you tomorrow Matt."
Her second in command nodded. "Good night."

Lara quietly entered her cabin. 
"Oh hi." A soft voice greeted her. 
Lara turned to look at the girl that was sitting up in her bed, hands still twisting on the metal rings. "Hey." 
Catherine lifted the rings that were still clinging together. "This puzzle thing you gave me is impossible. I tried every single way of twisting it loose, but nothing worked." 
Lara grinned as she walked over to the bed and took the metal puzzle from the girl's hands. 
Catherine shook her head softly. "I think it's stuck or something, cause…" She stopped, staring wide eyed at Lara who held up the two rings, one in each hand. "How did you do that?! I spend the entire afternoon fumbling with that thing!" 
"That was the point." The captain grinned. 
"Tell me how it works." 
"Nope." Lara chuckled, as she closed her hands over the two rings and attached them back together. "What's the fun in this if I tell you how it works?" She cheerfully asked the girl, as she handed her back the two rings. 
Catherine grumbled something, and focused her attention back on the metal, turning the rings with her hand. "Stupid game…" She grumbled, as the rings shot back in place. 
Lara stared at her a while and chuckled at every failed attempt, then decided to take pity on the girl. "Here." She said, closing her hands over Catherine's. "Try this." She suggested, guiding the girl's hands in a particular motion. The metal twisted again, and now, with a soft pop, the rings slid away from each other. 
"That's all?" Catherine murmured softly, looking at one of the rings, balancing on the fingertips of her left hand. 
"That's all." Lara said quietly, as she looked at her hand holding on to Catherine's. She sat there silently for another moment, then her mind grudgingly reminded her that it was about damned time to let go of the girl's hands. So she straightened awkwardly, giving the girl's skin a light pat. "Pretty easy, isn't it?" 
"If you know how it works, yeah." Cathy muttered, closing her hand around the two rings, then put them aside. 
She looked up at the quiet face towering over her for a moment. "You look tired." 
Lara sighed. "I am… It's been a busy day…" 
"Yeah, I heard you screaming up there… We're going a lot faster now…" Cathy said, looking at the captain's face intently. 
"We… uhm… We're just in a bit of a hurry that's all… Wanna get back to dry land." 
Cathy smiled. "Land sounds good… I miss feeling some steady earth under my feet. Don't you?" 
"Not really actually… I like the sea." 
"Why?" Cathy asked, frowning her brows. "It shakes, because of all those waves, and it smells and it's salty…" 
Lara chuckled. "True. I guess… I guess I'm just a sea person… My daddy was a sailor.. It must be hereditary." 
"A sailor, huh?" Cathy murmured, intrigued. "I guess you spent a lot of time at sea then?" 
"Yeah." Lara smiled at the memory. "My father used to take me out on the boat a couple of times. Just for small trips, couple of days or so. And we lived in a port, so I sorta got used to the salty smell and stuff. Never bothered me." 
"Hmm.." Cathy said softly. "Well, maybe it'll grow on me, I don't know… I'm a city girl. I only saw London streets and little dirt roads and if I was lucky a patch of grass." She chuckled, then fell silent. "I always wanted to see some of the countryside… Just never got a chance…" 
Lara stared at the bent head for a moment, then softly reached out and patted her shoulder. "Well, you're in luck. Australia is one huge unshaped land mass, so you'll get all the countryside you want." 
The girl cocked her head. "Is it nice there?" 
"Haven't been off board too much, but it has it's nice traits. It's very rugged… Quite different from England… I think you'll like it…" 
Cathy smiled. "I hope so…" 

"So, you feeling any better?" The captain changed the subject, as she settled back in her seat. 
Catherine thought about this for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. I feel a bit stronger…" A grin. "I'm hungry…" 
Lara laughed as she stood, walking to one of chests in the corner and pulling a large loaf of bread out of one, followed by a piece of cheese. She handed them to the girl. "Here." 
"Thanks." Cathy smiled as she dug into the food, barely chewing before swallowing it down. 
Lara chuckled then walked over to her desk and settled back in her chair there, placing her booted feet on the table's surface. "I'd better get some rest." She told her chewing companion. "It's probably gonna be an early day tomorrow." 
Cathy stopped eating and cocked her head at her. "Don't tell me you're gonna sleep in that chair." 
Lara raised an eyebrow. "My bed is sort of taken at the moment." 
"Lara, come on, don't be ridiculous…" Catherine started, pulling herself up. "I'm not going to lie in your bed, when you…" 
Soft hands pushed her back into the pillow. "Don't even think about it." A low voice burred. "I'm used to the chair, really." Lara continued in a less threatening voice. "I always fall asleep in that thing, staying up late working…" 
Cathy stubbornly shook her head. "That can't be comfortable.." She informed the captain sternly. "Look, it's a double bed, right? It's big enough for both of us…" 
"No…" Lara shook her head. "You need to rest." 
"And what? I can't do that while you're getting some well deserved sleep on the other side?" 
"Catherine…" A dark voice burred. 
Cathy raised an eyebrow. She pulled the covers off the spot beside her, patted the surface, then snuggled back into her pillow, closing her eyes contentedly. "Blow out the candle when you're done yelling, OK? I'm tired." 
Lara crossed her arms, staring at the girl in disbelief. She gazed at the comfortable mattress, then at the hard wooden chair behind her desk. Another look at the mattress, then she sighed to herself and walked over to the other side of the bed, stripping off her clothes and pulling on a sleep shirt. She leaned over to blow out the small flame that was lightening up the room, then crawled under the covers, settling in the soft mattress with a content sigh. 
"Told you this was more comfortable." A soft voice mumbled next to her. 
"Yeah yeah… " Lara muttered, then wrapped her arm around her pillow. "Good night." 
"Sleep well, Lara." Was the mumbled reply

Cathy happily snuggled up to the soft item she was holding onto. Dawn was slowly nudging her into awareness, but her mind grudgingly refused, wanting to go back to the pleasant dream she'd just left. She pushed her head back in her pillow… Kind of a hard pillow, her mind informed her. Cathy frowned. Pillows weren't meant to be hard, it hadn't been yesterday… On the other hand, it didn't have fingers yesterday either so… 
Cathy's eyes popped open, glancing at lightly tanned skin from a very, very short range. "Oh boy…" She mumbled softly to herself, then slowly turned to peek up. 

She had curled her hands around Lara's arm, and what she thought had been her pillow was actually the captain's shoulder. Her eyes shifted to the quiet face. Still deeply asleep. "Phew..." Cathy let out a held breath slowly, then started to untangle herself from Lara's arm. She slid back over to her side of the bed, settling back in the cold covers. Another look at Lara's face showed the captain was still vastly asleep. She had a very restless face, Cathy decided, seeing the constant twitching of muscles. Interesting though… Cathy found herself studying the high cheekbones, firm chin, slight tan, the blue eyes… Oops… 
"What's so interesting?" Lara asked, raising an eyebrow at the girl. 
"You." She heard herself say. "I mean, uhm… you… You have very interesting facial features." 
A second eyebrow raised. 
"I draw, you see." Cathy continued quickly. "You start to notice stuff like that, when you do." 
"You draw, huh?" 
"Yeah." Cathy said, relieved at the change of subject. "Well, I used to back home anyway. I don't know if I can still do it, after all this time…" 
Lara shrugged. "I'll get you some paper if you wanna try…" 
A huge smile spread across the girl's face. "Yeah, that'd be great… Hey, I can still go up on deck today, right?" 
"I promised, didn't I?" Lara stated, throwing the blankets of her body and swinging her legs over the edge of the bed.. 
"Great, I'd love to see how you work…" 

A knock sounded on the door, quickly followed by Matthew bursting into the room. "Hey Lara, it's about time for you to…" He stopped abruptly, looking at the barely dressed captain who was sitting next to the girl on her bed. He stood there for a moment, then pointed at his captain. "We need to talk." He stated, turning and walking out of the room. 

Lara sighed and shook her head, then started to pull on a dark blue pair of loose fitting trousers. 
"What was that about?" Catherine asked, gazing at the door in confusion. 
"He and I need to talk business." Lara replied shortly, standing. "I'll be right back." 

Lara walked into Matthew's small cabin. Her second in command was sitting down on his bed, standing as she walked in. Lara closed the door behind her. 
"I thought you weren't going to get attached to this girl!" 
"I'm not." Lara stated, crossing her arms. 
"Come on, Lara, the two of you were in bed… Together… " Brown eyes blinked up at her. "Do you know what that looks like?" 
"Like two people who only had one bed and were civil enough to share it with each other?" 
Matthew started to pace the room, shaking his head. "This is going downhill… I should just drag her out of that room and…" 
"You will do no such thing." Lara's voice grumbled. 
Matthew's eyes looked into her blue ones. "Look at the way you're acting! She is just a convict, Lara." 
"We were 'just convicts' once, Matthew… Remember?" The captain replied with flashing blue eyes. "So don't you ever dare say that again." 
Matthew closed his eyes a moment and sighed. "I'm sorry…" 
"I feel bad for her, OK." Lara started. "She had a really hard time, and in a week or so she'll be building houses and serving at the governor's table… I just wanna give her a break… Just for a little while…" 
Matthew shook his head. "Why her, Lara? What's so special about this girl? It's not just about your brother, is it?" 
Lara thought about this for a moment. "No, I guess not." She then said, hesitantly. "She's nice, and smart and good company… And I'd just like to enjoy that before she starts hating my guts." 
Matthew threw up his hands in defeat. "All right, it's up to you then. But don't say I didn't warn you…She'll have to go when we reach Sydney." 
"I know that." The captain said quietly. 
"As long as you do…" Matthew sighed. "Now shoo, I need some rest. It's been a really exhausting evening, going on full force. Wind's picking up…" 
"Hmm…" Lara muttered, not too happy with the news, then she straightened. "I'll let you sleep then." 
"Yeah, good luck Lara." 

Lara gently carried her burden op the stairs that led to the bough, then slowly put her down. Cathy leaned her back against the wooden mast, and stared around her with wide green eyes. "Wow." She murmured, looking at the bustling sailors walking around on the deck below and climbing up the ropes. 
Lara smiled. "I'll have to go and help. I'll send someone to bring you some paper and stuff, OK?" 
"Yeah, sure, thanks." Cathy replied absentmindedly, glancing at the blue ocean that stretched endlessly towards the horizon. 

"Hey Tom." Lara greeted he skipper as she walked closer. 
"Hey cap." He replied cheerfully. "Is the young lass staying up on deck today?" 
"Yeah. I figured some fresh air might do her good." 
"Well, right you are, cap… Poor thing… I saw her when you picked her off that ship. God, she looked awful… She's a lot better now…" 
"Yeah…" Lara agreed. 
"You did a good job there, Lara. Girl like her, she deserves a second chance, right?" 
"Right." Lara smiled at the skipper. "So, how's things?" 
"Matt said it's been a rough night. Wind picked up, and it's changing… Due south…" 
Lara frowned. "South's bad." 
"Uhuh." The skipper agreed. "Storm's coming in fast, cap, if you ask me…" 
"Hmm… You think we'll make it past the Eye?" 
"Don't know." Tom shook his head. "If we do, it's gonna be damned close." 
"Close is good enough." Lara murmured, staring at the waves. "I'll take the wheel for a while Tom, let you rest your arms a moment… It's gonna be rough sailing today…" 
"Aye, capt'n." 

Catherine stared around her in amazement. She'd never really spend time up on deck before, unless you counted the few seconds they got once every few days on the convict ship. It was a fascinating place. A dozen men and women were walking around, pulling on ropes and making sails rise or fall, scrubbing decks. A couple were just leaning over the railing, glaring out at sea, a boy was climbing up towards the crow's nest. 

"Hey there." 
The voice startled her. She quickly looked up to see a man in his fifties stare down at her with a smiling face. "Hi." She replied softly. 
His smile broadened. "The cap send me up to give you this." He said, extending his hand in which he held a couple of sheets of paper and a pencil. "And this." He continued, handing her a plate with a large piece of fish on it. 
"Oh, fish for breakfast, now that's something." 
The older man chuckled. "It's the easiest to get 'round here. The sea has a certain lack of pigs and chicken, so don't count on bacon and eggs any time soon." 
Catherine chuckled, biting a piece of her fish. "Oeh, nice…" 
"Barramundi." The sailor informed her cheerfully. "Nice ain't it?" 
"Uhuh." Cathy muttered around a mouthful of fish. 
The sailor chuckled and sat down. "So, what ya gonna do with that paper?" 
Cathy swallowed. "Draw." 
"Draw, huh? You any good?" 
The girl grinned. "They used to say I was… Don't know about now…" She put the now empty plate down and picked up the pencil. "Might as well find out…" Catherine looked around for a subject and finally found one in a younger boy, sitting on the lower deck tying knots in a set of ropes to form a net. 
Cautiously she edged some lines on the paper, her eyes darting from the paper to the boy. 
"Wow." The sailor, who was peeking out over her shoulder, muttered. "That's pretty good." 
Catherine looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you, sir." 
"Ugh, "He waved her off, "Tom, please… Sir is not really appropriate for an old sailor like meself." 
Another smile. "Catherine." She introduced herself, then she returned to her picture. "So, Tom… You've been a sailor for long then?" 
"'s Long as I can remember." Tom cheerfully informed her. "I used to serve on one of them English ships, till the cap there convinced me otherwise." 
Cathy frowned up at him. "How's that?" 
"Well, you see, the cap there was shipped out just like you. Stole something or other, I don't know… But then some bad stuff happened, and she decided she'd had enough, so she thought up a plan to take over the ship." 
Cathy blinked. "You're kidding! She hi jacked the ship off the English?" 
"Most certainly did." Tom told her proudly. "One of those guys on the ship... He took her up to his room, to... ah.. well, you know.." Tom said, diverting his eyes for a moment. "She gutted him, then escaped, but bumped into me. She asked me to join her. I told her she was nuts to even try this, but I'd kind of had it with my old captain. He was a bastard, he was… So I figured, what the hell… Knocked out the guard, helped her unlock the chains and ten minutes later the captain was shark food and the ship Lara's…" 
"That's amazing…" Catherine murmured, her eyes darting from Tom to his captain, who was quietly standing on the stern, overseeing the ocean. "No one on our ship would have even considered that…" 
"Yeah well" Tom grinned. "The cap there ain't just any one. She's a miracle in motion, I tell ya…" 
Thomas looked up at Lara, who was waving him over. "Oh well, duty calls." He commented, standing up. "Nice talking to you, Catherine." He gave her a smile, then trotted off towards the stern. 

Catherine returned to her sketching, finishing her drawing with a few more strokes. "Not bad." She muttered to herself, correcting a few more lines. "Bit rough on the edges, but not too bad…" 
She put the paper at the back of the pile, revealing the new white sheet. "Next victim." She muttered as her eyes spied around for something else she could draw. "Oh…" Her eyes stopped, and she lifted her hands to frame her new subject. "Perfect…" Quick pencil strokes followed. 

Lara quietly leaned over the steering wheel, staring silently across the ocean. The wind wasn't as strong as it had been this morning, but it's force was still strong enough to make the ship bounce slightly over the waves. Clouds were drifting in from the south. They had one clear day left, at most, Lara realised, as she stared at the white clouds. Well, at least the wind was giving them a good head start on their friends up on the warship they'd encountered yesterday… They'd need it. Lara sighed. "Hey Tom?" 
"Yes cap?" 
"We got any fish yet?" 
"I'll go and 'ave a look, cap." Her skipper informed her cheerfully, then walked over to the lower deck and started pulling on some ropes. A few moments later a large net, about half full of fish was hauled on board. Tom looked up and raised a thumb at Lara. 
The captain chuckled. "Nice going, Tommy! Take 'm down to Cookie, will ya?" 
"But of course, my ladyship." The skipper assured her with a posh English accent as he bowed. 
Lara just laughed and waved him off.

Moments later the skipper returned. "Cookie says the fish is horrible, but she'll attempt to make something digestible out of the garbage."
The captain chuckled. "That's Cookie all right. Gods that woman knows how to complain, doesn't she…? You did explain to her that we just can't keep cows on this boat right?" 
"I did, but she insists it is possible. Just a bit of hay…" 
Lara sighed and shook a hand at him. "Tom, don't even go there… I just refuse to have cows on my ship, OK? Next time she complains just tell her we'll all go out for diner, when we get to Sydney or something, OK? That oughta keep her quiet…"
"Aye capt'n." Tom chuckled. "Wanna get some rest now? I can take the wheel…" 
"Yeah, thanks." Lara said, giving her skipper control of the ship. She rubbed her upper arms a bit to loosen the muscles. "We've got lousy weather coming in, Tommy." 
"Aye… I figured as much when I saw them clouds…. White ones now, but they won't be for much longer…" 
Lara nodded in agreement, then patted her skipper on the shoulder. "Keep her straight, Tom." 
"Aye capt'n." 

Cathy edged a few more lines and sat back to regard her creation. The notepad was far from empty now, covered with several sketches of the crew and the boat and the waves. It wasn't that easy, drawing while the boat was bobbing up and down the waves constantly, but she'd managed to find a way to balance the paper so there was hardly any movement. She leaned back against the wooden mast again and sighed happily, sucking in a breath of fresh salty air. The sea wasn't that bad really, she told herself happily as she let the soft rocking of the ship lull her off into a half slumber. 

Suddenly a loud splash woke her. Intrigued she stared at the side of the ship that the sound had come from. She took a quick peek at Lara, who was standing on the stern talking to one of the younger boys. "I bet she wouldn't mind if I just took a few tiny little steps, right? Nah, of course not…" She chuckled, then pulled herself up a bit, leaning her body against the wooden mast for support, still clinging onto her notepad and pencil. Her knees shook dangerously, but they managed to hold as Cathy worked herself up until her weight was solely on her legs. She smiled at the sheer ability to be able to stand again. Then she turned her head and looked of to the port bough. Just a few steps and she would be able to cling onto the railing for support… 
Cathy took a deep breath, strengthened what muscles she had and then pushed off of her wooden support and took several quick steps forward. Stumbling she reached the side of the boat and found support on the wooden edge. Leaning on it she stretched her body, peering out into the clear blue water that turned into white waves as it was pushed aside by the wooden mass of the ship. 

For a moment there was nothing to be seen but the waves and the water, but just when Cathy wanted to turn away and stumble back to her safe space on the wooden deck a dark gray head poked up out of the waves, blinking a dark brown eye at her before disappearing again under the water's surface. 

Cathy blinked, then gasped as another similar head made it's way to the surface and disappeared again just as quickly. "Oh wow…" The girl mumbled, then instinctively grabbed her pencil and reached over even further, industriously starting to draw thick black lines on the white paper. 

"Just make sure to check all the ropes are tied down properly, Mary, we're expecting bad…" Lara's voice drifted off as she saw a blond head leaning dangerously far over the side of the boat. "… weather soon." She finished in a murmur, followed by some muttered curses. 
The brunette gave her a non understanding look. "Sorry?" 
Lara waved her off. "Uhm.. just… never mind. Just make sure you and Ron check all those knots, OK?"
"Aye captain." 

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" A dark voice grumbled.
Catherine bit her lip, then slowly turned, looking into flashing blue eyes. "Uhm… just uhm…" 
A dark eyebrow raised. 
Cathy sighed. "I just heard this plunge, OK? And I wondered… And… and…" She returned to her hanging position and pointed down. "Look." 

Lara rolled her eyes and look down into the water as well, staring several moments at the dark surface before another gray head poked up, sending drops of water flying up. "Oh…" She smiled. "You like dolphins huh?" 
"What are they?" Catherine looked up.
"Dolphins. They're fish, sort of, but they breathe just like us. Watch." Lara said as another dolphin reached the surface. "See that hole in his back, that's how he breathes…" 
"Wow." Catherine mumble, intrigued. "They're so beautiful…" 
"Yeah, they're quite nice… They're really friendly, I swam with them a couple of times… You can do that to, if you want to, I know a spot near Port Jackson…"
"I can't swim…" Cathy mumbled softly, staring down into the water. 
"Oh…" Lara fell quiet for a moment. Her eyes fell on the notebook in the girl's hand. She reached over and took it, before Cathy could even give any form of protest. Silently she gazed at the perfect dolphin's head that peeked out of the waves. "Nice." She murmured appreciatively. 
"You… You think?" 
Lara nodded, her eyes still fixed on the drawing. "Hell yeah, this is really good." 
"Thanks." Catherine mumbled shyly, staring down at her hands that were fumbling with her pencil. 

Lara looked at the dolphin's head for another moment, then flicked through some more pages, finding detailed drawing's of several members of her crew. Jonathan while he was making one of the fishing nets, Mary climbing up to the crow's nest, Tom pulling in the fish and… She drew in a deep breath as she turned the next page, to stare at a perfect drawing of herself, leaning on the wheel, her head resting on her hands as she stared off into the nothing with a look of quiet content. 
She blinked up to see Catherine stare at her sheepishly. "I uhm… you…"A shrug. "I told you, you have nice facial features." 
The captain raised an eyebrow at her, then leafed through five more drawing of her on several places on the ship. She looked up again to stare into blinking green eyes. "They're… nice…"
Cathy smiled then took the notepad from the captain's fingers. "You sound so convincing." 
"Well, they are…" Lara stuttered. "I just… I just don't like pictures of myself that much… you know…" 
"Oh…" Cathy said softly as she tucked the notepad into the belt she was wearing

They were quiet a moment, then Lara cleared her throat. "You… you'd better sit down…"
"Yeah…" Catherine said quietly, then she took the few shaky steps back to the place she'd been sitting. 
Lara smiled at her as they both sat down. "You're getting your strength back…"
A grin spread across the girl's face. "Yeah. It feels so great to walk again and not feel sick and…" She looked up into the dark face. "And I feel so guilty…"
Blue eyes turned and looked her way. A dark eyebrow lifted.
"You have done so much and… I have nothing to give you… I just wish I…"
"No." Lara interrupted quietly. "You have nothing to feel guilty about…"
Green eyes blinked up at her. "But isn't there anything I could…" Catherine let the sentence drift off into the silence.
Lara was quiet to for a bit, then she raised her eyes to meet Cathy's. "Draw me a picture…"
Catherine sighed in relief. "That's no problem, I can…"
"Of you."
Blond eyebrows shot up. "Huh?" 
Lara grinned. "I'd like a drawing of you." 
"But… I can't… Lara, I hate being in drawings.. I…"
But the captain just stood. "An eye for an eye, Catherine." She stated, then chuckled as she turned and walked off to the stern. 
Catherine stared off after her silently, then sighed. "You just had to ask, didn't you?"

"Hey lass."
Catherine looked up into smiling brown eyes. "Hi." She answered the skipper with a grin.
He sat down next to her on the deck. "So?" 
Catherine lifted an eyebrow in question.
"Did you finish it?" He asked eagerly.
Catherine chuckled. "Of course." She fingered through her drawings then pulled one out of the stack. "Here." 
Tom took it and looked over the drawing. "Perfect." He grinned up at the girl, who smiled in reflex. "I'm gonna hang this over my bed, I tell ya… It's brilliant." 
Cathy chuckled. "Well, I wouldn't let Lara see that picture if I were you… She doesn't like pictures of herself much. I'll be toast if she finds out I gave one of these to you." She stated, indicating the paper in which Lara was swinging down from one of the higher ropes. 
Tom chuckled. "Her? No way lass, she wouldn't hurt you for the world…"
Cathy remained silent, managing a smile for the skipper. "Maybe… But I'd still be in serious trouble, so keep that one to yourself, OK?"
Tom grinned. "Gotcha." He stood and dusted his pants off, then gave her a smile. "Thanks Cat, I really appreciate this one." 
"Don't worry about it." 
He gave her a smile, then happily trotted of towards his room. 

Moments later Lara walked over. "It's time to go back inside." 
"Aw, do I have to?" Catherine asked pleadingly, looking up at the captain with sad eyes. "Can't I just stay a few more minutes… I wanna see the sun set…"
But Lara firmly shook her head. "Not today… maybe tomorrow, OK?" She stated, bending down and then lifting the small body off the deck. 
"Hey, I can walk you know?" Catherine weakly objected. 
"I'd like to get to my room before nightfall if you don't mind…"
Catherine blinked innocently, as Lara found her way down the stairs. 
"Don't even dare to tell me you weren't going to stall for some extra time up here. I know you better than that."
Cathy smiled. "Do you now?" 
"Yeah." The captain muttered. As she pushed the door open with her foot, then walked over to the bed and put her burden down. "There ya go." 
"Thanks." Catherine smiled, then was silent for a moment. "So I get to see the sunset tomorrow, right?" 
Lara sighed and shook her head as she walked back towards the door. She turned to see the girl giving her a pleading look, then sighed, throwing up her hands. "Oh, all right…" She stated, pushing open the door and striding out of the room.
Catherine just chuckled, as she snuggled into her pillow. "Too easy." 

Lara shook her head at herself silently. "You are such a softy… She gives you one little blink of the eyelashes and you're won over… Weak, Lara, very weak… We gotto start working on your 'I'm the tough as nails bloodthirsty pirate' again, OK? OK." She sighed, then straightened. "Ron! Mary!"
Soon enough the two deckhands came trotting over. "Captain?" 
"Lets get the prisoners out." 
"Yes, captain." They both nodded, then walked over to the barred door and walked down. Lara walked on behind them, descending down the stair into the cargo hold. "And guys? Be very quiet, OK? I don't wanna hear one chain rattle… Got it?"
Mary gave the captain an odd look. "But…" 
"Got it?" The low voice rumbled more persistently.
The woman immediately straightened. "Yes, captain." 
"Good." Lara stated, then turned and walked back up, leaving the two to their business." 

Matthew was just about to walk over to the stern when he heard anxious whispering voices coming from the crew's room. He frowned, then ducked under the door post and entered the large room that had several hammocks hanging across the room. Around one of the hammocks, in the far corner, a group was huddled, staring intently at… something…
"That is so excellent… Does she know you have this?" 
"No way, she'd be way flipping out of her skull if she knew…" Tom's gruff voice whispered.
"Can I keep it for a while, just to…"
"No way. You get one of your own… Just ask the girl…" 
Silence fell, then the whole group turned around as one and blinked at the second in command, who was pleasantly smiling at the men. 
"Would you gentlemen mind telling me what this is about?" 
There was some muttering, but no real answer.
"Or would you rather have me get Lara and let her find out?" 
All the men suddenly jumped up. The room was suddenly flooded with words like 'picture' and 'captain', but most clearly the sentence was the yelled "Tom did it!"

"Gee, thanks lads." The skipper muttered as Matthew narrowed in on him and lifted an eyebrow in a scary mimic of the captain's intimidating look. "Hey, don't look at me like that Matt, it's no like I did anything illegal or nothing, OK?" he handed the second in command the piece of paper he'd been holding in his hand. "Just got me this." 
Matthew kept staring at the skipper as he reached out and took the paper, then looked down and looked at the drawing. His eyes remained intently fixed on the sketch. "Who did this?" He muttered softly. 
Matthew looked up and frowned his brows. "Who?" 
"The lass the cap saved." The skipper explained. "Fine young lady she is, and one hell of an artist, wouldn't you say?" 
Matthew stared at the picture for a few more moment, then handed the drawing back to Tom. "'s Not bad."
"Not bad? Matt, that is just brilliant! She got every single detail right." Tom stated, staring intently at the drawing. "Look, even the eyes… Amazing detail…" 
"Yeah Tom, she's god's gift to painting, OK?" Matthew waved him off. "Now, I don't know if you fellows realize this, but this here ship isn't gonna be sailing out of itself…" He stared at his evening crew. "Let's go guys."
The crew muttered something, but quickly enough followed Matthew out onto the deck, leaving Tom and his drawing peacefully alone. 

"Hey Lara." 
The captain's head lifted as she heard the voice of her second in command. "Matthew." She greeted him. She stared into the distance quietly for a moment. "The bad weather is coming in…"
Matthew looked up at the clouds, lined in a bright orange by the setting sun. "Too soon…" He said softly, eyeing the sky. 
Lara nodded. "I don't think we'll make it past the eye of the needle in time."
Matthew sighed. "I'll set sail for the south then. We can sail around Van Diemen's land, then turn back towards Port Jackson… We'll…"
Matthew frowned at her. "What no?"
"No, we will not change course." 
The commander's eyes grew round. "Lara!" He grabbed onto the captain's shoulders and made her face him. "We cannot sail the Eye! Not with that storm coming in."
"I've done it before." Lara simply stated.
"That was in the spring." Matthew corrected her. "You and I both know spring storms are nothing compared to what's heading our way right now." 
"Matthew, we have a warship chasing us down, OK? That ship is gonna reach us in two days, maybe three… I am not going to be captured by English. Not now, not ever… You got that?" 
Matthew stared at her intently. "Are you willing to risk all these people's lives for that? For your honor?" 
"If we get caught, this whole crew will be killed. The prisoners will be send to work for those blasted English anyway… What would they win if I lost?"
"Life." Matthew simply stated.
"In all it's ratchet glory." Lara finished in a grumble. "The sea at least offers a choice, Matthew, and with your consent or without, I'd like to take a shot at outrunning faith once again. If you disagree then you can just hop into that boat hanging of the stern and start rowing, OK?" 
Matthew sighed. "You know I won't do that." 
Lara crossed her arms. "Then shut up and start sailing." 
The second in command sighed, but threw up his hands in defeat. They were both silent for a moment. "We've been at odds a lot lately, haven't we?" Matthew then offered softly. 
Lara looked up at him, then stared back down into the water. "Yeah, we have… It… It's me Matt, it's not you… I've… I've just got some problems up here." She stated, tapping her head. "And I just have to figure things out for myself…" 
Matthew stared at the quiet profile for a moment, then reached over and wrapped an arm around the captain's shoulders. "Life sucks sometimes Lara." 
The dark haired woman looked up at him, then chuckled. "It most certainly does, Matt…" 
"Well, don't let it get to you, OK? Things have a way of sorting themselves out sometimes… Just wait and see…" 
Lara looked down quietly. "I don't know if this is something sortable, Matthew…"

"So, can I go outside again all day tomorrow?" 
Lara looked up from her papers. She regarded the girl for a moment, pleading eyes glimmering back at her. Then she shrugged. "Didn't do you any harm today, so I guess… sure…"
A smile beamed back at her. "Thank you." 
Lara just shrugged and waved her off. 
"Don't do that." 
The dark head edges up again. "Do what?" 
"Act like what you do is nothing…" Cathy said softly. "Every time I say thank you, you just shrug it off…"
Lara sighed, and shook her head. "I don't deserve any gratitude…"
"You saved my life, I think that qualifies…" The blond woman stated, sitting up slightly. 
"If I wouldn't have been there, you would've been fine… You're very strong Catherine, you would have managed…"
Cathy crossed her arms and shook her head. "That is a load of crap and you know it." A dark eyebrow raised. "I would've died there if you hadn't come along… Even if they hadn't beaten me up, I would've…" A moment of silence. "Because I lost my faith… in life… You gave that back to me…"
Lara shook her head. "I couldn't have…" 
Green eyes blinked. "You did."
The captain sighed, then stood and walked over and sat down on the bed. "Catherine… I don't believe in faith… I don't believe in destiny, or justice. I don't believe in god, miracles or heroism… Everything you've got up there." She stated, touching the girl's forehead. "That's all yours… I didn't give you anything…"
Catherine stared at her for a quiet moment. "You don't believe in anything?"
Lara shook her head.
"Why not?"
"Because life sucks, and if there was a god or something, it wouldn't…"
Cathy blinked at her. "You're life isn't so bad, is it? I mean, you love the sea. You just sail around, save some desperate convicts…"
Lara looked down. "It's more complicated than that…" 
"It just is… You… you wouldn't understand…"
Cathy tried to hide the sudden overwhelming feeling of disappointment. "Oh… OK…"
Lara spared a look at the bend head and sighed. "I… Catherine, it's just very hard for me to explain…"
The girl's green eyes looked up as well. "It's OK… I…" A pause. "Can I ask you something?" 
Blue eyes blinked. "Uhm.. sure…"
"Where are the others? Friends of mine were on that boat, and I was just wondering…"
"They're fine." Lara hastily said. "They are… They're on a second boat… They'll meet up with us sometime soon."
Cathy smiled in relief. "Oh… Of course, I should have thought of that… I just.. I didn't even think of it until now and I suddenly realized I hadn't seen anybody else around, so I was wondering…"

Lara managed a smile and a nod, then walked back over to her desk. "Go get some sleep, OK?" She commented over her shoulder. "I still have some work to do, so…" 
Cathy nodded, then wrapped an arm around her pillow and pushed her head onto the soft surface. "Sweat dreams, Lara." 
Lara looked at the quiet form for a long silent moment, then managed a 'good night'. She stared at the girl for a few more moments, until she saw the rhythm of her breathing slow, then she just hid her face in her hands. She's smart, the captain informed herself sadly. She'll realize what's going on soon enough… And then… A breath as she tried to calm her shaking body. Come on Lara, her mind yelled at her, get yourself together. She's just a girl, right? You've sold thousands just like her and never so much as twitched. Get a grip, OK?

Another breath, then she stood and bent over to blow out the small candle that spread it's light over her desk. The room turned dark, only the soft moonlight casting shadows into the cabin. Lara softly made her way over to the bed and slipped into her sleep shirt before crawling under the covers. She turned her head and looked at the sleeping form next to her, outlined in the silver moonlight. Hesitantly she reached out, and softly touched the dark bruise still coloring the girl's cheek. It didn't seem to be painful anymore as the girl didn't flinch, but smiled. Lara swallowed. "I'm so sorry, Catherine." She managed in a hoarse whisper. "Please forgive me."

Cathy sighed as crumpled another piece of paper into a ball. "I so hate this." She muttered, as she picked up the small mirror lying beside her again and started over, trying to draw the promised self portrait. Lara had softly reminded her of their deal this morning, and Catherine was never one to back out on a promise, so… Another sigh. It wasn't easy though. She'd been working on this the whole afternoon, after some requested pictures for some of the crew… All of Lara, for some mysterious reason. Cathy chuckled softly as she drew another dark black line on the paper. The night sky was softly turning a darker shade of blue as the sun began its descend. Lara's second in command had just come up on deck. Catherine had decided she didn't particularly like him. Not that they'd really spoken, but he had been obviously avoiding her and she found that to be quite rude. She'd started drawing a picture of him out of pure boredom and had ended up with his head attached to an octopuses body, tentacles waving around dangerously. A soft chuckle. Mean? Yes. Inconsiderate? Yes. Funny? Hell yeah. Another chuckle as she eyed herself again in the small mirror, softly touching the dark bruise on her left cheek. "Better leave that out, huh?" She told herself, then made some more rapid pencil strokes. 

The captain looked up as she saw Matthew move up onto the stern. "Yeah?" 
He walked closer until they were side by side. "I just did some calculations. That ship, it's gonna reach us in a day at most."
"That's not good." Lara muttered, letting her eyes flick over the outstretched seas. 
"No, it's not… And I've bet you've noticed that." He stated, pointing up at the dark clouds drifting in from the south. It'll hit us tonight."
"I know…" 
Lara sighed and thought for a moment. "I'll have to think about it. Give me a few moments, OK? I'll go do some calculations and see what's the best battle plan."
"Deal." Matthew agreed. 
Lara nodded, then strode off towards her cabin. 

Matthew walked over to the skipper, who was leaning on the large wooden wheel. "Hey Tommy." 
"Mr. Matthew." The skipper greeted him cheerfully. "Saw the cap taking off…Anything the matter?"
"Nothing new." Matthew sighed, leaning back against the wooden railing. "So, what has to be done?" 
"Well…" Tom started, turning the wheel slightly left. "There's that slight crack in the stern that needs to be looked at. I don't think it's nothing big, but can't risk anything. Prisoners need to be walked and fed, fish needs to be pulled in… That's about all for the day shift really…" 
Matthew nodded. "Good, I'll get on that then…" He stated, before striding down the stairs, towards the door to the cargo hold… 

Catherine looked at her now nearly finished drawing. "Not bad… for a picture of me anyway…" She muttered, picking up her pencil for the last finishing touches. Then a rattling caught her attention. An awfully familiar sound that send shivers down her spine. "No…" She whispered softly, then watched as a young woman strode onto the deck, dragging a thick rope behind her. A dozen chained men followed her, one of which seemed very familiar. 

The older man looked up, then his face spread into a huge smile. "By the gods, lass. It is so good to see ya finally. You know, we were so worried, Richard and meself." 
Cathy stared at him in disbelief. "You're… She's holding you down there?"
John blinked at her. "Well, sure… But it's much better here lass. We get lots of time walking 'round, and really good food. It's a palace compared to…" A pause as he looked at the pale face staring at him. "Catherine…? Are you OK?"
Catherine took a deep breath. Her mind was spinning in circles, faster and faster, stopping her form thinking straight. It can't be… She kept repeating to herself. She couldn't… But slowly all the pieces fell into place and she realized all the non-committal shrugs, all the diverted looks, they were all because… because…
She swallowed, then took another breath. "Excuse me for a moment." 
John frowned as he watched her turn and stride off. "What's up with you, kid?" He muttered, then he slowly walked over to the edge of the boat, staring into the dark waters. 

The door smashed open, making Lara's desk shiver. The captain looked up angrily and was just about to make a snappy comment when she saw the disheveled figure standing in the doorway, deep green eyes staring at her in complete rage. A drawing pad escaped from between shaking hands and hit the ground. 
"You lied." Cathy managed from between clenched teeth. 
Lara looked at her, then saw the movement behind her as an older bearded man in some ragged clothes stared at them from some distance. Her mind raced through her options, then realized she had none. Not anymore… "Catherine…"
"No, don't you Catherine me! You lied to me, Lara! You bloody lied! You told me they were on another ship while all the time… They were…" A sob, then the girl quickly rubbed the tears out of her eyes. "They were locked up the whole time…"
Lara took a deep breath. "Yes, they were."
"You are going to sell them?"
Another breath. "Yes."
Their eyes met for a quiet moment, then green eyes narrowed. "I believed in you." Catherine managed. "I believed you were some kind of hero when all you are is a lying…"
Lara swallowed then stepped forward, a hand reaching out for the girl's shoulder. "Catherine, I…"
"No." Cathy snarled, stepping back. "Stay away from me. I want nothing to do with you." And with that she turned and strode out of the room, leaving Lara in a deadly silence. 

Continued - Part 2

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